Virtual Internship Program: Creating Unique Collaboration and STEAM Opportunities in The Big Easy

At Jacobs, we’re turning big challenges into greater opportunities  whether it’s in the work we do for our clients, creating solutions to deliver a more connected, sustainable world, or in the initiatives we undertake to secure our own future, like investing in and training the next generation of engineers and technology leaders.

Given the shortage of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineers, Arts and Math) workers, it’s getting more difficult for companies like us to find candidates with high-tech skills and STEAM degrees; so our teams actively partner with organizations and clients in many of the communities we work and live in to give students and community partners a chance to learn about and get involved in STEAM.

For the past two years, we’ve teamed  up with Youth Force NOLA, whose primary objective is to connect rising high school seniors in New Orleans to a network of career pathways by partnering with employers, like Jacobs, in high-wage industries. By focusing on three major pillars, students receive an integrated experience both inside and outside the classroom where they receive career exposure, build their skillset and obtain real-world work experience throughout their teenage years to ensure they are adequately prepared to succeed in the future workforce.

During this year’s internship program, two teens joined the Jacobs team for an inside glance into some of the exciting real-world projects we’re working on with the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans (SWBNO).

“As both leaders in the water industry and invested residents of New Orleans, we’re committed to helping future generations make a positive difference in our community,” enthuses Amanda Gaze, senior project manager and one of Jacobs’ team members who helped host the interns. “By participating in Youth Force NOLA, we can make a real and tangible investment in our youth – the next generation of leaders to solve the most important and challenging problems locally and globally.”

2020 presented some challenges of its own – being a year like no other, so was the 2020 Youth Force internship experience – the internships were virtual, and our teams got creative.

“Throughout the experience, the students have been eager to participate and learn about all engineering aspects of our work with the Sewerage and Water Board. But, with the pandemic,this year we needed to think differently from what a traditional internship would look like,” shares Amanda. “We created new opportunities for the students to grow their understanding of the water industry, remotely, which allowed us to leverage some great mentors both within and far beyond our local office.”  

The Jacobs team organized special virtual orientations for the two students to get them excited about career potential in STEAM-related fields. In these orientations, the teens got to experience many career paths available at a company like Jacobs – such as engineers, scientists, project management, project controls, sales and business development, just to name a few.

The interns also connected virtually with leaders of our Jacobs Employee Networks to learn more about our company’s journey and commitment to Inclusion and Diversity. In addition to these broad experiences, interns also got an overview of local Jacobs New Orleans projects with a focus on critical infrastructure work with SWBNO.

This year’s internship also allowed for a unique partnership to be forged, as SWBNO had a keen interest in developing a video it could share with the community about the stormwater drainage system – an essential piece of city infrastructure. Lucky for them and our intern Tajani Cockerham, who is a blossoming videographer looking to further develop her skills, we had the perfect solution.

Amanda partnered Tajanai with Jacobs Video Director Nick McNaughton.

Based in Indiana, Nick was able to guide Tajanai through the video creation process. Nick’s experience made him an ideal mentor for Tajanai as he was very familiar with the project and city and could advise and support Tajanai as she created the SWBNO video story.

“I know what a critical role mentors have played over the course of my career thus far, and to be able to pay forward the time that was invested in me onto a  bright, young professional was absolutely the most rewarding project I was involved with this year,” says Nick. “The impact of partnerships like this between companies and the communities in which they live and serve cannot be overstated and is the embodiment of Jacobs forward- thinking culture committed to challenging today and reinventing tomorrow.”

With guidance from Nick and partnership with the team, Tajanai completed the video in October. You can watch it now on SWBNO’s social media channels and below.

“This summer was great! Special thank you to YouthForce NOLA and Jacobs for allowing me to open my eyes to new possibilities! My mentor showed me that just because a task is new and different nothing is impossible!”, says Tajanai Cockerham. 

“Many of our employees have been fortunate to receive guidance and exposure that put us on our career paths, so we’re dedicated to nurturing this same approach for today’s youth, with hopes that more students will pursue STEM careers. Our company’s future, and the success of our clients, depends on this,” adds Amanda.

Jacobs is one of nearly 200 employers in the New Orleans region to participate in Youth Force NOLA.


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